Patients Fare Better With Women Doctors, Study Finds

Published 1 month ago
By Forbes | Robert Hart
Doctor soothing senior patient
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TOPLINE

Patients treated by female doctors fare better than patients treated by male doctors, according to new research published Monday, despite the field struggling to improve female representation in research and among practitioners.

KEY FACTS

Patients treated by female physicians in the U.S. had lower mortality rates and lower rates of readmission compared to patients treated by male physicians, according to peer reviewed research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The findings come after researchers from the University of Tokyo in Japan analyzed data from the medical records of more than 700,000 Medicare patients aged 65 years or older hospitalized and treated between 2016 and 2019 to assess the differences between patients treated by male and female physicians.

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Just under a third of the roughly 460,000 female and 320,000 male patients included in the study were treated by female physicians, the researchers said, and there were no significant differences between groups when it came to key metrics for evaluating hospital care including length of stay, spending, how likely a discharge to home was, management claims and the proportion of time spent under intensive evaluation.

While both male and female patients treated by female physicians fared better than those treated by male physicians in terms of lower death and readmission rates, the researchers found the difference was especially large and clinically meaningful for female patients, who are underrepresented in medical research and far more likely to suffer misdiagnoses and medical mistakes during treatment than men.

The researchers said multiple reasons could be behind the stark difference in outcomes for female patients when treated by female physicians, such as male physicians potentially underestimating the severity of illnesses in their female patients and female physicians probably having better communication skills and a more patient-centered approach when it comes to female patients.

Being treated by a female physician could also help alleviate the embarrassment, discomfort and social and cultural taboos that can arise for female patients during sensitive examinations, the researchers said.

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KEY BACKGROUND

The finding that patients treated by female clinicians fare better than those treated by male clinicians has been repeatedly borne out by research around the world. For example, studies published last year from researchers in Sweden and Canada found people operated on by female surgeons had better outcomes and fewer problems during recovery than when male surgeons had been performing the operations. In the U.S., research has shown women who have heart attacks are more likely to survive when treated by a female doctor. The same is true of elderly hospital patients. While studies are typically observational and so cannot determine cause and effect, research has shown female doctors tend to listen to their patients more, spend more time with their patients and are more likely to follow guidelines and collaborate with specialists. While patients might fare better under female clinicians, women doctors face a variety of issues hindering their ability to enter and remain in the field. Female doctors tend to be paid less than their male counterparts, face systemic discrimination and struggle with higher rates of burnout amid efforts to manage brutal medical schedules with other commitments.

SURPRISING FACT

Despite decades of vowing to address systemic bias against women in healthcare and research, medical research still knowingly and consistently overlooks women and women are still underrepresented in clinical trials. The bias pervades the entirety of medical research, even down to the laboratory level, with animal subjects like mice and rats all overwhelmingly male.